This student poll ranks NC colleges by campus beauty, dorms, alcohol use and much more

A new set of college rankings are out and some local universities have a lot to be proud of – and be embarrassed by.

College students are the judges for The Princeton Review 2020 rankings. They rate their schools on dozens of topics, from best career services to how much weed students smoke.

Some North Carolina schools placed in the top 10 for several categories including “Best-Run Colleges,” “Lots of Hard Liquor,” “Most Beautiful Campus” and “Best College Dorms.”

But it might surprise you which ones earned the accolades, and for what.

Elon University near Burlington, NC was named the ÒBest-Run CollegeÓ in the country with the ÒMost Beautiful Campus,Ó by The Princeton Review. Kim Walker Courtesy of Elon University

Elon: Well run and beautiful, but not politically informed

Elon University raked in the most positive reviews among the schools in the state. Elon students say they have the most picturesque walk to class and love to study abroad for at least one semester — maybe more.

The mid-sized private university near Burlington was named the “Best-Run College” in the country with the “Most Beautiful Campus,” which might be related to the number of fountains on campus. It also ranked 2nd for the “Most Popular Study Abroad Program.”

Elon made it in the top 10 for “Best College Theater” (6th), “Best Career Services” (7th) and “Best College Dorms” (9th). And Elon ranked 17th for “Happiest Students” and 20th in the “Best College Newspaper” category.

On the other hand, it’s students aren’t very politically informed, drink lots of hard liquor and don’t get the best financial aid packages, according to the rankings.

Elon was 6th for the “Election? What Election?” category, 10th for “Lots of Hard Liquor” and 13th for “Financial Aid Not So Great.”

Wake Forest: Alcohol and partying?

Wake Forest University earned a few accolades that its student might be hyped about but probably not it’s administrators.

Wake students drink lots of hard liquor and beer and attend a top 10 party school, according to the rankings. The school also has accessible professors, which was the only other category where the school got a top 20 ranking.

The private research university in Winston-Salem earned a No. 3 ranking for “Lots of Hard Liquor,” No. 6 for “Lots of Beer” and No. 8 for “Party Schools..”

But Barstool Sports disagrees. The Massachusetts-based sports and culture media company stepped in with its own list because, as it said, “why are a bunch of nerds rating where the best schools are to party?”

Wake Forest didn’t make Barstool’s top 25 party schools list. It didn’t even receive any votes.

East Carolina University, however, came in as the No. 2 party school, according to Barstool’s very scientific methodology of the “greatest minds on college partying” the company has to offer.

UNC-Chapel Hill: Journalism and basketball

The Tar Heels are apparently really good at two things: journalism and basketball.

UNC Chapel Hill ranked 13th for the “Best College Newspaper,” which is The Daily Tar Heel, and 13th for “Students Pack the Stadiums.”

UNC Asheville: Tree-hugging and LGBTQ-friendly

The only other UNC System school that earned top 20 rankings in The Princeton Review was UNC Asheville.

The liberal arts university in the mountains is made up of students who consider themselves very LGBTQ-friendly and “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians” who don’t read the Bible but vote in primary elections. They also LOVE the town of Asheville, but who doesn’t?

UNC Asheville is No. 12 in “LGBTQ-Friendly,” No. 14 in “College City Gets High Marks,” No. 14 in “Town-Gown Relations are Great,” No. 18 in “Best Quality of Life,” No. 18 in “Least Religious Students,” No. 18 in “Tree-Hugging Vegetarians” and No. 19 in “Most Politically Active Students.”

And it’s not just UNC Asheville students who love Mother Earth. The students at Warren Wilson College in Asheville are also tree-hugging vegetarians and smoke a lot of weed, according to the rankings.

Warren Wilson College was ranked No. 6 for “Most Engaged in Community Service,” No. 11 for “LGBTQ-Friendly” and “Reefer Madness” and No. 13 for “Students Study the Least” and “Tree-Hugging Vegetarians.”

HPU Princeton Review 4.jpg
High Point University was ranked No. 5 for ÒBest College DormsÓ by The Princeton Review. High Point University

High Point University: Nice dorms, conservative students

High Point University has some highs and lows in these rankings. Students at the private liberal arts university with a country club vibe have some of the best dorms, food options and a beautiful walk around campus. But they don’t get great financial aid and there’s not much to do in the city where they live.

HPU’s highest ranking was No. 5 for “Best College Dorms.” It ranked 14th for “Most Conservative Students” and 17th for “Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution.”

High Point came in at 18th for “Most Beautiful Campus” and 20th for “Best Campus Food.” But 19th for “College City Gets Low Marks” and “Financial Aid Not So Great.”

Catawba College: Is it food?

The final North Carolina school that was listed was Catawba College in Salisbury, but it probably wishes it wasn’t. The students say they have some of the worst food in the country, ranking No. 16 in “Is it Food?”

How it works

The Princeton Review surveyed 140,000 students at 385 of the nation’s top colleges to rate the schools in these categories. Participation from students varies by institution, but on average, about 350 students per campus answer the online survey each year. Some larger universities such as Clemson University have more than 1,000 students participate.

The survey asks more than 80 questions in four sections, including “About Yourself,” “Your School’s Academics/Administration,” “Students” and “Life at Your School.” Students answers are measured and used to compile the 62 ranking lists and the Best 385 Colleges.

The list doesn’t rank the schools overall, but includes top 20 rankings based on what students said about academic experiences.

While this isn’t the most scientific set of rankings, it includes categories that prospective students and parents sometimes really care about. And it helps them decide if their dream school is really their dream school based on more than academics.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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